Articles by Peggy

Overcoming Tough Problems with Kids:
A Narrative Therapist's Approach (cont)

Quite often, children resist going to — or returning to — counseling because they themselves have been identified as being the problem. Externalizing the problem through narrative conversations relieves the pressure of blame and defensiveness, which makes this type of therapy appealing to those who may be wary of seeing a counselor. Narrative Therapists listen carefully to the stories of people’s lives and help people identify alternative stories that are wider in scope and integrate relevant facts about the person’s strengths that might not be identified in a narrower version of the story. The alternative story allows people to place more emphasis on their hopes, abilities, values, beliefs, desires, and commitments, and begin to live life in the context of these preferred ideas and experiences. Narrative Therapy is strength-based, non-threatening, and even playful (i.e., "sneaky poopy!") in its approach to dealing with problems, which makes it particularly suited for children. A meeting with a narrative therapist is more like a conversation or interview than a session in which the counselor takes a role as expert. Problems are treated as separate from the person, and everyone works together to shrink the negative effects of problems in one’s life. This is accomplished through images, metaphor, and descriptions of the problem in order to understand the motivations, goals, and effects of the problem. Once the problem is named and more fully understood, people can take a stand against it and reduce its negative influence.

For example, 3 weeks ago in my practice, I met with a 13 year-old girl for the first time. The first words out of her mouth were "I hate my life," followed by a long list of reasons why. I asked her lots of questions about "the depression" she was experiencing—its effects on her relationships, schoolwork, feelings about herself. Throughout our conversation, she began seeing herself as separate from the depression, and I helped her tell me about who she is outside of the depression’s influence. It was beautiful to watch as she took claim of the hopes, values, and commitments that mean something to her; she identified herself as being caring, having goals for her life, and "searching for happiness."

By the end of our session, she was sitting straight up in the chair, and completely unprompted by me, she said, "Depression wants to take over my life. I’m not going to let it." Narrative conversations create meaning for every person in the therapy room, and often therapy can be short lasting and highly successful. To get a true sense of the process of Narrative Therapy, I have included below some of the basic tenets of the narrative approach using specific examples of common childhood problems. The Narrative Therapy (NT) response is contrasted with a less helpful one, with explanations of each.

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